It is about a week now since a twenty three year old girl who had been brutally assaulted by six men on a Delhi bus, died in a Singapore hospital. News spread like wildfire over social networking sites. Before and since then there have been numerous protest marches against violence against women, inviting rude comments on rape from politicians and the sons of politicians. On the other hand this single event has also garnered a huge amount of support from the public and led to a desire to address what has become one of our worst nightmares in modern times. It was one of those grisly events which went beyond filling people with fear and panic and firing them instead with a huge sense of anger and injustice and the energy to act against a government whose apathy and lack of concern borders on ruthlessness.
I tried to identify my own feelings. Among them I felt rage, powerlessness and in between, the kind of emptiness which sometimes follows strong feelings. The topic was discussed that week, during our English conversation class as well. Much heat was generated by various ideas. The right thing, Shraddha and Vijay felt, was to sentence the perpetrators to death. You could not overlook or forgive a crime like this. All the while they were speaking, I watched Sumanth shaking his head violently. Maybe he was against the death penalty I thought, something I myself – no matter what the circumstances - have never been particularly in favour of.
But then Sumanth says, his words tumbling out, and running into each other so that his speech is barely intelligible, “Madam, for such men the death sentence is too light. In five minutes it’s all over. Men who defile women should experience the same agony they cause to the victims. Cut off their arms and legs and leave them to die like beggars on the road.” Saru sitting next to him nods in approval, affirming that a simple death sentence would be way too ineffective. Punish those b******s! her tone clearly expressed.
Questions arose and I am still looking at them. What should be done with men who treat women like animals? How do you address brutality and inhumanity in our society, without actually indulging in and perpetrating these qualities ourselves? How could we help make a better world, if not for ourselves, then for future generations?
Somehow, the Delhi incident we have been reading and talking about these last few days, has stirred up feelings on a scale which seems unprecedented leading not only to protests against the government on a huge scale, but to a kind of waking up to reality and to what has gone wrong in society. The large scale public uproar is serving to bring to our consciousness the fact that our social conscience has been de-railed. But the question is not easy to resolve. What do we do about the violent streak in us human beings?
In yet another session, this time centered around self awareness, thoughts are again aired. Suresh, wearing a black band around his arm, and intending to join the candle light march later that evening, is reluctant to follow the “eye for an eye” policy. Raj, disagrees with his restraint. Distraught, she asks what one would do if one’s daughters were to find themselves in the same predicament and whether we would then be as prepared to forego severe measures. Leena who has been quiet a long while suddenly expresses her thoughts. “When we think of action on a huge scale, we invariably end up feeling paralyzed. It is so difficult,” she says, “for an individual to think up remedies for the public good.” The most effective thing we can do, she goes on, is to change the world, not through any grandiose schemes and punishments but through changing ourselves. For each of us in other words, to help make a new world through changing our own environment, bringing up our children in peace and freedom, addressing the repression that often leads to perverted acts be it rape or senseless brutality. Uma adds, that alongside these we need to address issues of our own need for control as rape has been established to be not so much as an act of sexuality but an act of establishing power over the victim.
A new area opens up for reflection. How does the outside world change if not through change at the individual level? Which doesn’t by a long shot mean we forget that the world exists and only live our own narrow lives but rather, that we keep abreast of happenings without letting our own power and ability to change get dampened by the overall sense of gloom and helplessness. At the practical level, some feel, women should perhaps gain mastery in self defense. Judo, Karate, the martial arts, generally. But also to know that deep transformation is not to do with instilling fear into human beings but to do with awakening true humanness through finding ways of going beyond bestiality. Empathy through self awareness, greater compassion and feeling towards each other. An attitude we sometimes despair of ever being able to attain. And yet, if a just and compassionate society is not our true goal, where are we really headed?!